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Needs and pieces

Honour walked past me, carrying something fluffy and red in her arms.

I got up, trying to look casual, and followed her into her room.

The chicken she was carrying looked up at me with a startled expression on its face. She tucked it back under her arm and sat down to read. I closed my mouth very deliberately and went back to my chair.

After a few moments I heard Honour get into bed, followed by some muffled squawking. I tiptoed back in. The chicken, now mostly under the covers, stared at me.

I blinked at the bird. She blinked back at me, panting lightly. I offered my silent sympathy to her and walked back to my chair.

Five minutes later, Honour walked past me again, hen’s head bobbing under one elbow.

“I’m going downstairs to make biscuits,” she said. “I think I need a new dog.”


So now we begin the search. It won’t be fast. I will be meeting with some breeders in April and of course I’ll be watching the shelters, but I am aware of the miraculous nature of finding Ginny and the fact that we really might need the support and help of a breeder because of the personality and temperament needs we have for a service dog. I think another Papillon is probably the best fit, but Honour says she just can’t do it. She says she feels like she’d be replacing Ginny too much. We’re sitting together and looking through the AKC breed book and thinking and talking about it.

The chicken is very relieved.


Or maybe put it in a shadowbox

Last night I came out of the computer room and tripped over a giant pile of packing peanuts and landed on a fork. And both of those were in the upstairs bedroom hallway.

I limped downstairs and said “THAT’S IT. THE GINNY MEMORIAL CLEANING COMMENCES NOW.” After four days of weeping and comfort-eating, the house pretty much looked like we were culturing cholera in the sink.

We attacked each room, sweeping dirty clothes and paper towels before us like a giant wave, scooping litterboxes and spraying windows as we went.

We hit the kids’ room in force, with broom held high, and Meri grabbed a big piece of posterboard and prepared to heave it in the bin.

And we all stopped stock still. There, on the ground, under the poster that had fallen over, was Ginny’s last Present to us.

We all stared in silence at it. There it was, the reason I had yelled at the kids to put her out, the reason she had been shoved out the door, the cause of it all. Two little brown torpedoes, placed as neatly as she always did in the center of Meri’s floor.

Finally, Doug cleared his throat and said, very seriously, “Should we bronze it?”

I heard Honour gasp – and then she laughed. And we fell on the beds and we laughed and laughed and wiped tears and laughed.

Which is to say: Thank you. We’re OK. We’re getting better. We love you all.


A heartfelt thanks

I am still not ready to come back to the world – we’re all wandering around staring at things and randomly bursting into tears. Ginny was the most joy-filled creature on the face of the planet, so I’m not going to talk about her here until I can write happily again.

We have read every single comment, every note and e-mail, and they mean so very much. We know you all loved her.

Please continue to have Honour in your thoughts. I don’t share too much about her on this blog because I feel so strongly that she has her own story to tell and it’s not my place to define her here, especially when she is struggling. (If you want words to put to it, she has OCD and social anxiety disorder, but now I want you to forget those words and know that she’s just a fantastic, sweet, brilliant girl who feels the same fears and worries that we all do, but where you feel them at about a level 2 she feels them at a level 10.) But many of you know that it is difficult for her to lead a full life without Ginny there, and Honour is not just mourning the loss of a beloved companion but what feels to her like the loss of hope and normalcy. Please pray that she feels peace and comfort and that she continues to learn the lessons that Ginny taught her about confidence and happiness.

Again, thank you all.


There are no words

Through a freak and tragic accident, we lost Ginny tonight. Please pray for Honour. Please pray for us all. I will be offline for a few days.

hours later: I am editing to add, because I don’t want to be deliberately confusing, that we don’t know exactly what happened to Ginny. We put her out for her normal last pee break, heard the dogs yelling twenty minutes later, went out and she was lying in the snow cold and still. We brought her in and tried to warm her, and she lived for a couple of hours, but she just couldn’t come back and she died while Honour and I held her and told her how much we loved her.

We did not take her to the ER vet (an hour away) – we would never hesitate to do so but for the first hour or so we thought she was just cold, and after that we knew it was too late. We didn’t want her last time with us to be in the back of a car or on a vet’s table.

She had marks that look like she was tugged by the other dogs, but no skin was broken and there were no obvious injuries of any kind. I assumed at first, when we brought her inside and thought she was just very chilled, that she must have been fighting with Clue. However, once we got her cleaned up we found that she’d been nosed around and tugged but not hurt. The other dogs have also NEVER hurt her, each other, or any living creature besides a suicidal guinea hen who flew into Bramble’s mouth last fall. Ginny and Clue have always battled it out for the supremacy of the universe but a few screeches were as bad as it EVER got. We guess that she may have had a heart attack or embolism or a seizure outside and the other dogs reacted to that. Maybe if we had gotten to her sooner… I just don’t know.

We are shattered, and feel incredibly guilty and horrified and lost. She was not a dog; she was always more. The kids and I have been reading A Wrinkle in Time, and have said over and over again that Ginny is our Fortinbras, our Louise the Larger.

She’ll sleep in the quilted bag Honour hand-made for her, the one that she rode in over my shoulder, and in the spring we’ll plant dogwood over her.

I don’t like to make this blog a place for me to fall apart. So I won’t be updating for a while. We are not all right. We are very definitely not. But we know the love of a God who loves dogs, and we love each other very much, and we believe in the made-new-ing of all things.

We love you all and thank you for your love and concern.

Family, Ginny

Salmonella Reduction Project; Ginny story 3,209

After a year of searching for a hatchery that bred its own chickens and was no-kill (little-known fact: Most of the big hatcheries keep a few breeds but are sourcing most of their “rare breed” chicks from a huge variety of farms that you do not necessarily know anything about, and in order to keep up with last-minute hobby-owner orders they will vastly overproduce every hatching cycle and the extra chicks are then killed), we placed a small order at Sand Hill Preservation.

I know nothing about them except that they are wonderful via phone and e-mail and that the owner is dedicated to good genetics and function, so it’s a bit of a grand experiment, but he’s sending us a little group to begin our backyard flock.

We’re getting mystery chicks and experimentals, probably none of them purebred, that he sells very inexpensively in order to never kill the “unwanted” chicks. The hope is to keep a couple of the hardiest roosters, let the other boys move into the freezer, and push a couple of hens to go broody every year to make our own little mixed-breed pasture flock.

When I was growing up we had a tiny “mutt” flock, never more than twenty or so, that long ago had been a shipment of Light Brahmas and a shipment of Rhodies, a couple of Black Sex-Link, and two bantam roosters that someone gave us. After five or six generations they were indeterminate brown, small, every-other-day layers that lived ridiculously long lives and went broody naturally. They were a complete failure as production birds but as backyard birds they were brilliant.

I am very much looking forward to showing the kids what eggs are supposed to look like – shells like iron and a fat orange yolk – and knowing that at least one bitty part of our food supply is safe and clean. No idea what hatch I’ll be getting babies from, but I’ll of course post a zillion pictures when they come.

We took the kids and a friend to the lighthouse beach last night, on what turned out to be the darkest night of the summer. No moon, and the Milky Way was visible in a way I haven’t seen in years. The surf was very high and too dangerous to swim, so we scrambled on rocks until the sun went down and then ran on the grass near the parking lot as the night gathered.

While the kids laid on their backs and ate ice cream and talked about stars, Zuzu had Ginny’s leash and was running with her in big loops; I could just barely see her white dress and Ginny’s tail.

There was some momentary crisis – somebody suddenly darted in one direction and I had to look away from Zuzu – and I called out “I need somebody’s eyes on the baby. Ginny, DO NOT LET HER RUN!” and ran to deal with whatever it was. Fifteen seconds later turned back because Zuzu was crying angrily, and saw Ginny dimly at the other end of the lawn, flat on the ground, pressing herself into the grass, as Zoob furiously yanked her and tried to keep going. I called to Ginny and she stood and began to come to me; Zuzu screeched in rage and threw herself on the ground, still holding the leash. Ginny DRAGGED her five or six feet toward me before I could get to them.

I checked them both for bumps and bruises, gave them both kisses, and told them it was OK now, and off they went again, running.

And yes, Ginny got to clean up the ice cream.

That was not a command we’ve ever taught, or even close to it. She’s not particularly bonded to Zuzu and doesn’t usually think of Zoob as her duty or try to help her the way she helps Honour; my calling to her was pure panicky instinct. As Doug said, “You know, she likes to pretend she’s a dog, but she gets the details wrong.”

Family, Friday, Ginny, Juno

Meeting and greeting and finding doors

Today we packed up four kids, three dogs, two adults, a giant pot of chili, two loaves of homemade bread, and a stick of butter and headed down to Fitchburg.

We were supposed to meet Tiffany, Dawn, Sarah, and all their dogs at a dog-friendly state park nearby, but it was raining buckets and so we set up chili on a grooming table and everybody stood around and ate and watched Juniors and Working Group and talked dogs. I didn’t have anything entered; I find the venue (a small and very crowded hotel convention center) super stressful and I didn’t think it would be good for either Friday, who has taken to telling me lately how much she dislikes indoor shows, or Juno, who had never been to a show at all.

I ran Friday in and out quickly, trying to show her that even if you go inside a big loud smelly place it’s OK because you can go right back out again, and then grabbed food and Juno and went back in, trailing children and bags of shredded cheese like malformed ducklings behind me.

Ginny gets the starring picture in the blog post today because when Honour brought her in to the show she (Honour) began to feel overwhelmed very quickly. Too many stressed dogs everywhere, too much noise, too many people, too much everything. Ginny not only knew what was going on before I did, she offered grounding behaviors that let Honour get calm enough to tell me that she needed to leave. Honour told me that she didn’t know where the door was, and she didn’t know how to get out. I told her to ask her dog where the door was, and Ginny picked her way through the grooming area past about fifty dogs and got Honour to the door – NOT the door we’d come in, but the closest open door, then got her to the car, where we tucked her in with an iPod and Friday.

Honour later told us that Friday was having issues with gas exchange and burped so much the whole time she was out there that she wondered if she should have stayed inside the convention center, because the air inside of the car was basically dull orange by the time we came back out again. However, chicken burps aside, it was an amazing job by Ginny. She’s really starting to initiate behavior and is making choices that are very complex. We’ve been working on “find the door” based on her going to the end of the leash and putting pressure on it, but today when she was asked she refused to go out to the end; she stayed next to Honour and moved slowly, never going more than a step ahead of her. I, who was walking right behind them keeping an eye on everything thought she was disobeying, honestly. I was feeling like it was a failed command on Ginny’s part until I realized we were at a door, an emergency exit that someone had propped open. Staying beside Honour was a better choice, because we were threading through so many people and dogs, but it was not anything we’d ever trained.

Anyway, back to the show site. After dogs had been gaited, chili had been eaten, and Zuzu was having a major meltdown at the entrance to the Ladies Room, we got out of Dodge with two crying kids and a very tired puppy.

And did we go to the park anyway, despite the downpour?

Oh yes we did!

We not only went, we let the kids swim in the lake (you’re already soaked, might as well) and Honour and I took the dogs out far enough into the woods that we could slip their leads and let them run.

And sniff.

And crash into each other and try to brake in mid-air to avoid running up Ginny’s bottom.

And bite each other’s faces.

And trot around.

And get really wet.

I know that I haven’t been posting a lot of Juno lately, because she was SCARY ugly for a while there, but she does exist!

And she’s actually getting kind of pretty!

By then Ginny was soaked and miserable.

And Juno was tired.

And so Ginny and Honour and Friday ran back.

(Ginny says: Double-suspension gallop THIS, bitches!)

And Juno and I sat and watched the rain on the lake for a minute, and then headed home.

The end.

Family, General, Ginny

Ginny’s service dog handout

It’s a good thing that service vests have pockets! With Ginny go her rabies certificate, some pretty Moo “calling cards” that have the first paragraph of the ADA service dog statement on the back (for any business owner or manager who has questions), a few things Honour needs with her, and this. We’ll eventually have it made up on postcard stock, but right now we will print them out as needed, and hand them out to people who have questions.

By the way, a huge shout-out to the people who have helped me so much with this – I felt completely at sea about how to make this all happen and it was only due to the incredibly good advice (including to make up this handout!) of several great service-dog owners that I had ANY idea how to help Honour get to this point. It really took a village, and I appreciate it so much.

Family, General, Ginny

Ginny gets her vest

Somebody is VERY proud of herself.

This week Ginny started the public-access training phase of her service dog work. I am a complete nervous nellie about doing this exactly right, so it’s been a year since Honour first asked if Ginny could be trained to be a service dog. In addition to the research I did into the practicality and legality of the issue, Honour had the responsibility to show me that she’d:

– Trained Ginny on all GCG skills, a good heel, a sit-stay, a down-stay, flawless recall, and perfect waits and leave-its.

– Trained at least a few specific service behaviors that help Honour. The specific skills she has down cold are interposing (she puts herself between Honour and anyone approaching, but must do so in a calm and either neutral or friendly way) and assessing/greeting (she offers specific greeting behaviors to people). She also offers tactile stimulation, but that’s her own choice and we didn’t train it. She also knows to find an exit door and we’re training “find the car.”

Our huge test for getting her vest was to bring her to a dog show and ask her for a down-stay and heeling in the show tent among the dogs waiting to go in the ring. I had to close my eyes, I was so nervous! But when I opened them, there were Honour and Ginny, calmly walking through fifteen Tervurens with not a glance to the right or left.

Now that Ginny has her vest and I am confident that she’s ready for it, we’re doing public work. That means stores, museums, restaurants, and so on.

This is the two of them at the Portsmouth Children’s Museum, where we go when we want to let the little ones run themselves ragged for three hours.

It’s a whole new experience for Ginny, and she’s frankly exhausted. After each outing she has to sleep for hours. With the vest on she really understands that she’s WORKING, and the amount of concentration is enormous. The biggest skill she needs now, honestly, is just experience and endurance, and giving herself permission to relax and sleep when Honour stops moving. Right now she is at 100% “stand watch” all the time and it’s visibly draining.

The biggest challenge for ME, the mom in all this, is plain old self-doubt – this isn’t a disability that’s visible most of the time, so I swing between feeling like I should defend every move the two of them make and feeling like maybe we’re making too big a deal out of this. Doug is good about reminding me that without Ginny there’s no question that we’d be medicating by now, and even with that kind of intervention we’d be having to offer a huge amount of support ourselves.

The biggest difference in our lives is that we get inside a building and Honour, for eleven years stuck to my elbow, yells “Bye!” and darts off and is gone.

The biggest difference in Ginny’s life is that now she has to sit on enormous mice.

I guess we’ll both have to get used to it.

Family, Ginny

Crowninshield Island, Marblehead

We are amassing quite a collection of dog-friendly hidden jewels in New England – the latest and an absolute triumph is Crowninshield Island in Marblehead. The town is as close as our young country gets to an Old World town – tiny, narrow roads, ancient houses that lean into each other, every local drives an old Volvo. The teeny beach and the wonderful island lie at the end of a tiny road that is honestly too narrow to even be a driveway. At low tide you can walk across the causeway to the island, but today we unadventurous souls stayed on the tiny beach while Doug and Meri swam across to the island and explored.

My goal for today was to get a good portrait of Ginny – I have many, many pictures of her, of course, but she’s about to enter the world as a Real Service Dog and to celebrate we’re having ID cards made for her vest – one will say “In Training” and the other will say “Certified Service Dog” for after she passes her testing. So I wanted some good head shots for that and for Honour to use as she journals the experience.

I haven’t made a big fuss about Ginny’s service training and work, because it’s really Honour’s story and not my place to shove her into some kind of discussion spotlight, but it’s been a huge part of our lives over the last year and Honour has done it almost completely on her own. Some days she’ll come to me and ask what the best way is to train Ginny to always walk on a loose lead or similar, but aside from a bit of guidance she’s done every bit of training. For an eleven-year-old to train a dog for extremely specific tasks and, more than that, to learn to rely on her for those tasks, has been something amazing to watch.

I knew we really had it when I heard Doug say to Honour (on their way to the library or something) “Of course Ginny’s coming; if you think I’m taking you ANYWHERE without that dog, you are sorely mistaken. She knows how to handle you a lot better than I do!”